It has been about a year and a half since the second season of “Westworld” ended with “The Passenger,” a feature-length episode so loaded with timelines and twists that even explainer articles became their own Russian nesting dolls.
Had the third season begun the next day, many of us would be scrambling desperately to sort through all the host-human hybrids, the smuggled control units and the three or four different terms for the virtual Eden where android souls are uploaded. “Westworld” has the power to turn the human brain into the ultimate corrupted server.
So let’s start with a basic reassurance about the new season, which debuts Sunday on HBO: You’re going to be OK. The action has shifted from Westworld to the real world, where Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) can continue her quest for revenge on the humans responsible for making her life — and the lives of the other hosts — an ever-looping hell of violation and death. Her path to this point was wayward to the extreme, but her mission hasn’t wavered in the least. In the great robot rebellion, she has always been the tip of the spear.
But even though the third season has been streamlined, “Westworld” is still “Westworld,” and there are some major conceits and characters from Seasons 2 that are worth remembering. Let’s break them down one by one:
The Valley Beyond (a.k.a. the Sublime, a.k.a. Glory, a.k.a. Eden)
All season long, the characters were making their way toward a mythical place on the horizon. Dolores said that the Valley Beyond was a “weapon” she would turn against the humans, which was partly true (see below), and the Ghost Nation leader Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) envisioned a doorway into another world, which is a little bit closer. In truth, it is a virtual paradise created for the hosts by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), where they can all live free and peacefully away from their human tormentors — a kind of giant server into which their conscious minds were uploaded.
The virtual doorway lay at the edge of a cliff; the moment a host passed into the Valley Beyond, its mind separated from its body, which then dropped lifeless into an actual valley beyond. The good news for narrative purposes is that these hosts are not “Westworld” dead, but dead-dead. (R.I.P. Akecheta.) And Dolores secured their everlasting bliss by beaming this Eden to a satellite that apparently no human can access.
The Cradle and the Forge
The second season introduced two massive server farms. The Cradle, located in the Mesa Hub, where the park’s technicians do their work, stored all the relevant backup data for the hosts and the park environments. It was to Westworld what an external hard drive or the Cloud might be to a computer. The host Angela (Talulah Riley), once a submissive greeter to guests at the park, blew it up in a suicide bombing. That means freedom for the hosts, but also mortality.
The Forge was like the Cradle but for human information. (Its servers also contained the Valley Beyond before Dolores beamed it and its inhabitants elsewhere.) One big revelation from Season 2 was that the true value of the park for the Delos Corporation was in mining data from the guests. Using those ten-gallon hats, Delos collected information and stored it in the Forge with the aim of copying human minds into host bodies, which, if successful, could effectively make those people immortal.
James Delos (Peter Mullan), the company’s founder, was the original lab rat for this experiment, but perfection was elusive: At some point, each new iteration of Robot James would reach a “cognitive plateau” and break down. But that didn’t mean the end of the idea — there’s a lot of business potential in immortality.
The relationship between Dolores and her fellow host Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is adversarial in many respects — expect the two to clash in Season 3. But Bernard quietly programmed the Forge to be a database where Dolores could consume the guest data in a virtual library. (Remember this when Dolores makes reference to a book early in the Season 3 premiere.) He also “killed” Dolores in the Forge and later took out her control unit, or “pearl,” in order to place it in the body of another host. Much like the Cradle, the Forge is wiped out, this time by a flood. (A reminder to keep your electronics away from water.)
In the season’s biggest twist, Bernard created a hybrid by placing Dolores’s pearl inside a copy of Charlotte Hale’s body. The executive director of the Delos board, Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) had been the chief “Westworld” villain, leading her security team in putting down the host rebellion and securing the company’s intellectual property.
After the Charlotte-Dolores hybrid (“Halores,” let’s call her) gunned down the real Charlotte, it not only allowed Dolores to smuggle herself onto a rescue boat to the human world, it also ensured that a perfect copy of Charlotte’s body would be available to occupy the seat of power at Delos, where she could make consequential decisions that might not be beneficial to mankind.
The only chance to stop Halores was a scanner that would identify her as a host, but in another twist, the security chief holding the scanner, Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), revealed that he was a host himself. And so she was off to the mainland, clutching a purse full of pearls.
The Pearls and the Bodies
There were five pearls in Halores’s purse. One of them was Bernard, which we know because the Season 2 finale jumped ahead to a scene in which we see him and Dolores in a safe house provided by Ford, complete with a 3-D host printer. Which also means that Dolores (as Halores) printed a new body for herself as well.
But the Hale host-body wasn’t discarded; it showed up at the safe house, too, which means that one of those other four pearls wound up inside of her.
The other four could be any host that didn’t walk into the Valley Beyond. Among those who didn’t make it: the sharpshooting Sweetwater bandit Armistice (Ingrid Bolso Berdal); the bandit leader Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro); and Maeve (Thandie Newton), the hugely powerful host who spent the second season searching for her daughter. When Maeve’s body was left in the hands of two sympathetic technicians, Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) and Lutz (Leonardo Nam), her revival became a near certainty.
The Post-Credits Scene
The last scene of the finale, tucked Marvel-style into the credits, took place in the future amid the ruins of the Forge, with Emily Grace (Katja Herbers) interrogating her father, William, a.k.a., the Man in Black (Ed Harris) — just as a younger William (Jimmi Simpson) once interrogated his father-in-law, Jim Delos.
Only this Emily and William were both hybrids: The real Emily had been shot and killed by her own father — or at least some version of her; she broke the truth to Robo William, who apparently had been there many times before.
“Tell me, what were you hoping to find, to prove?” she asked.
“That no system can tell me who I am,” he replied.
So much for that.
It’s not worth the brain cramps necessary to figure out what got them there and why, but it’s a good indicator that while “Westworld” has shifted to the human world, the park remains open for the show to visit.